Mulligan Meets Monk
captures one of the most improbable encounters in jazz, one artist the standard bearer for the conservative cool school, the other a peddler of a more liberal style of jazz. Both were mavericks in their own way, and there’s an interesting symmetry in their approaches: Mulligan exploring the freedom available without a piano, Monk delving into new territory with one. However, the real appeal of the session is the “will this work, or won’t it?” quality that the encounter promises, and one can’t be blamed for assuming that it is Mulligan that must rise to the occasion rather than Monk.
Since “’Round Midnight” is a tune that by this time all jazzmen could play in their sleep, one must wait for the later tunes to see if Mulligan can handle his duties. However, we shouldn’t have been concerned; ever the chameleon, Mulligan manages to navigate the nooks and crannies, smoothing over the angles while staying true to the changes and the spirit of the composition. The song selection consists of the most conventional of Monk tunes, avoiding the more rigorous material like “Criss Cross,” yet there’s still an undeniable challenge to playing with Monk, and Mulligan proves that he can find footing in the pianist’s odd rhythmic accents and knotted chords.
Although the songbook belongs to Monk, this is clearly Mulligan’s session, and Mulligan Plays Monk may have been a more accurate title. Although the pianist takes a few solos, he seems content to stay in the background as accompanist or to lay out altogether, only really putting his personal stamp on Mulligan’s “Decidedly,” which comes off sounding like another Monk tune. Monk veterans Wilbur Ware and Shadow Wilson turn in their usual fine performances. This album will likely appeal more to Mulligan fans slightly more than Monk fans, for this is a great Mulligan album and a merely good Monk album. Nevertheless, worth picking up just to see what was going on that day.
Personnel: Gerry Mulligan-baritone saxophone; Thelonious Monk-piano; Wilbur Ware-bass; Shadow Wilson-drums.